IPhone, what? Facebook.com let it be known that its preference is with the masses, debuting a new user interface called "Home" that's built atop Google Android, the world's most-used smartphone operating system.
Android Gets a Fresh Paint Job
Android OEMs like Samsung typically take the base UI -- say Ice Cream Sandwich -- and then build their own UI gloss atop it (e.g. Samsung's TouchWiz UI or HTC Sense UI). The new Facebook app adds yet one more layer atop those OEM UIs.
Despite the fact that Android is now running a base UI, plus two custom skins (the OEM UI and Facebook's addition) performance at a demo at Facebook's California Menlo Park headquarters felt "incredibly native", according to The Verge.
The new Facebook UI modifies your homescreen and lockscreen via an app called CoverFeed that pushes updates and communications to your device.
Some updates are even visible when your phone is locked (that should get interesting from a privacy standpoint).
Apps Ensure No Matter Where You Are in Android, Facebook is Near
When using apps, a new UI charm now appears atop running apps, with round face icons called "Chatheads" that represent your friends you're talking to. Click on a Chathead and the running conversation pops up, without exiting your current app. The Chatheads also unify messaging for known contacts, using Facebook Chat/Messaging when possible, but falling back on SMS if necessary.
Facebook has also made a new app launcher and app drawer, to help prioritize your favorite Android apps.
The kit will also bundle Facebook's popular photo-doctoring software, Instagram.
While the Home app kit will eventually be available on a "wide range of Android devices]", including tablets, it will initially be only available on a handful of top sellers -- the HTC One and One X, and the Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy Note II.
It will be available on those select smartphones starting April 12 via the Google Play store. Current users of Facebook's first-party Android app will be asked whether they want to try out the new UI/apps.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that Android is his company's top priority. He said that new features will be launching for Home every month, and that his company would tireless work to roll out smooth support for lower-end Android models.
HTC First is First Smartphone to Preload Home
Alongside the announcement, HTC and Facebook announced the anticipated "Facebook Phone": the HTC First. HTC and Facebook have worked together closely in the past on the ChaCha, Status, and Salsa smartphones, which had Facebook integration built tightly into their UI.
For all the months of rumors and hype the First does not appear to be the high-end device some had hoped for. It has a modest 4.3-inch 1280 x 720p SLCD3 display combined with an LTE-endowed Snapdragon 400 1.5 GHz dual-core processor from Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM). It is available in black, white, red and blue and will be AT&T, Inc. (T) exclusive. The phone isn't exactly a killer when it comes to memory (1 GB) and camera resolutions (5 megapixel rear, 1.6 front camera).
Embattled HTC CEO Peter Chou calls the HTC First the "ultimate social phone". Priced at $99 USD with new two-year contract, it will be one of the cheapest devices to support Facebook Home (that makes it half the price of the HTC One on contract. And it's the first device to have Home preinstalled.
The HTC First's specs are somewhat similar to Samsung's year-old Galaxy S III, which recently also dropped down to $99.99 USD, with the impending launch of the Galaxy S IV. However, the GS3 has the edge in screen-size and camera resolution.
Overall the First is pretty underwhelming from a hardware standpoint, but it may appeal to some budget buyers. AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega brags that the First is "the most immersive engagement I've ever seen."